Emily Anne Epstein / The Atlantic

There's an affordability crisis in playland, too.

In a squeaky voice, a little girl with a mousy bob asks, “Where are all the people?”

It’s a good question. She’s looking at an enormous doll house, clocking in at 29 rooms, including a wine cellar, armory, ballroom, and library. The opulent Astolat Dollhouse Castle—appraised at $8.5 million—is artfully appointed, but nearly abandoned.

It’s on view, for the first time, at the Shops at Columbus Circle in New York’s Time Warner Center through December 8. Before this exhibition, the owner—who wishes to remain anonymous—kept it in storage for nearly two decades, arranging the 30,000 little pieces in climate-controlled boxes.

The home was designed in the 1980s by Colorado artist Elaine Diehl, who specialized in miniatures. It took 13 years to build. Assembled, the structure is nine feet tall and weighs 800 pounds.

Dorothy Twining Globus, former curator at the Museum of Arts and Design, was enlisted by the Time Warner Center to serve as a docent. She gave CityLab a tour, crouching to point out bottles filled with real whiskey, or craning to show off portraits made in the style of old masters, using a single-haired paintbrush.

Another visitor, Ruth Dodziuk-Justitz, stooped to examine a table topped with tiny geodes and crystals—a miniature cabinet of curiosities. She has close-cropped silver hair, a turquoise scarf, and round black glasses, and leaned close to the display case. “Doll houses can stop me for hours,” she said. After spotting the display, she made a detour from a trip to buy coffee at Whole Foods. “Growing up, I always wanted to have a dollhouse, and my brother always wanted a garage,” she added. “So now I collect miniatures and he collects cars.”

The house’s only resident is a wizard sequestered in a tower. Where is everyone else? Globus laughed. “New York is too expensive for dolls.”

Like Brooklyn apartments, the bedrooms have parquet floors—although these rooms are frilly and illuminated by functional chandeliers and sconces. (Kelly Mahoney/Astolat Dollhouse Castle)
Artists crafted the facade by pressing modeling material, similar to papier-mâché, into the shape of stone slabs. (Emily Anne Epstein/The Atlantic)
There’s a whole room devoted to tiny taxidermy. (Kelly Mahoney/Astolat Dollhouse Castle)
Throughout the house, the items are modeled on a 1:12 scale, meaning that an inch corresponds to a foot (and that these apricots and prunes are teeny-tiny). (Kelly Mahoney/Astolat Dollhouse Castle)
A suit of armor stands guard over a collection of tiny pistols and other tools. (Emily Anne Epstein/The Atlantic)
The little books in the library—most of which measure about 1 inch by 1 inch—were intended for life-sized readers, who would peruse them with a handheld magnifying glass. (Kelly Mahoney/Astolat Dollhouse Castle)
The manicured landscaping consists of trees fashioned from moss, as well as stately steps flanking a pair of classical columns. (Emily Anne Epstein/The Atlantic)
The little commode features inlaid marble and a roll of toilet paper that actually unfurls. (Kelly Mahoney/Astolat Dollhouse Castle)
Merlin lords over the grounds from his tower, which also houses telescopes and an observatory. (Emily Anne Epstein/The Atlantic)
A visitor peeks through the window into the living room. (Emily Anne Epstein/The Atlantic)

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